The first job I had after moving to southwest Florida was at a bait shop. It wasn’t a bad gig. We mostly talked about fish: what kind of fish were biting, where the fish were biting, and what the fish were biting on. We stocked lures that looked like worms, minnows, and Tammy Faye Bakker. It was hook, line, and sinker for cash, check, or credit. Our customers were as diverse as our inventory, but inside we were all the same. Trapped inside each of us was a Captain Ahab trying to get out, because out there somewhere was Moby Dick.
Those who fish are more creative than people who don’t. The reason is simple. There is a lot of time to think while fishing. Cures for disease and solutions to world conflict have been deciphered while waiting for a bite. An Ivy League’s deans list doesn’t hold a candle to a crowded fishing pier. It’s the think tank over the fish tank. If only we weren’t too busy holding a pole, but a pen and paper instead. Once we get a bite, our minds turn to jelly and any previous enlightened thought becomes the big one that got away.
I was qualified to work at a bait shop. I could count to 12. Twelve was the layman’s term for a dozen. A dozen was the fishing term for live shrimp. We sold a lot of shrimp. The little crustaceans were the backbone of the wish bone that was fishing.
Those who fish are more optimistic than people who don’t. We dance between lightning bolts to get in one more cast. Eight hours without a nibble is considered just a little slow. We see sunrises and sunsets. We watch birds fly and dolphins roll. So if we don’t catch anything it’s never called a bad day. Catching a fish, though? Catching a fish is a peek of heaven without the commitment. There is a tap, a tug, a pull. This is the moment. The payout of the fiberglass pole, a reel made of leftover space shuttle fiber, and one unhappy shrimp.
After the fish is landed, there is a pause. It’s an awareness that something great just happened. Not the discovery of penicillin or the first moon walk, but something really great. Mother nature was just bamboozled into thinking there was a free lunch. Proof of our cunning is displayed at the end of a stringer. If our subjects do not meet standards, or we feel merciful, they are released with their own story to tell.
The bait shop had a bulletin board with pictures of people holding up their conquests. All types of people, holding all types of fish. The pictures were taken on different days in different settings, but they all had one thing in common. In every picture there was a smile.
Bob Eidem lives on Sanibel Island, Fla., with his wife and daughter. They have a gender confused cat, a bird that never shuts up, and one of those cute little green turtles that never died and isn’t so cute anymore.